WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill that could provide a pathway for compensation to past victims of contaminated water around Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune has been reintroduced in Congress.
The bipartisan measure, known as the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2021, was introduced in the House last week by Rep. Greg Murphy, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s third congressional district, including Carteret County, along with representatives Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., and David Price, D-N.C. Rep. Cartwright originally introduced a version of the bill in March 2020, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced it in the Senate last September.
If approved by Congress and signed into law, the bill would allow service members, civilians and their families who were stationed at or near Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, to file a lawsuit in district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to recover damages for health issues related to toxic water exposure. The burden of proof would lie with the plaintiffs to provide evidence of a relationship between toxic water exposure and health issues.
“Military service comes with incredible sacrifice and immense struggle. If government failure makes those struggles even worse, we owe it to our veterans to make sure they are taken care of,” Rep. Murphy said in a statement. “When it comes to getting care to those affected by water contamination at Camp Lejeune, we have failed. That’s why I’m joining Representatives Cartwright and Price to remove the legal hurdles currently preventing veterans from getting their day in court.”
According to reports, for a period of about 30 years beginning in the 1950s through the 80s, harmful chemicals were present in government-provided drinking water near Camp Lejeune at levels ranging from 240 to 3,400 times the level permitted by safety standards. The chemicals have been linked to a number of medical complications and exposure may increase the risk for certain cancers, such as renal cancer, multiple myeloma, leukemia and more. The chemicals have also been associated with higher risk for adverse birth outcomes and a range of other negative health effects.
A North Carolina law known as the statute of repose currently prevents individuals from taking legal action more than 10 years after exposure to the contaminated drinking water. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act aims to bypass that statute and provide an avenue for service members and their families to recover damages after the fact.
“Due to a convoluted trail of legal interpretations, the current application of North Carolina law keeps veterans and their families affected by water contamination issues at Camp Lejeune from getting their day in court for often-crippling and deadly medical conditions they have suffered,” Sen. Tillis said when he introduced a near-identical bill in the Senate last September. “This legislation provides a fix so these victims will be treated like others would be treated in other states and territories.”
If the bill is passed as currently written, individuals and their families who wish to file a claim must do so within two years from when the law is enacted.